Commentary

'MIB3' Heads For Black Ink With Chinese Aboard

$203.2 million worldwide; $70 million in the U.S. -– not a bad opening weekend for a Hollywood “sequel that nobody wanted—or asked for.” The Daily Beast’s weekend tout sheetcontinues: “‘Men in Black 3’boasts some fun visual effects, Will Smith one-liners, Josh Brolin doing a spot-on Tommy Lee Jones impersonation, and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as the villain, Boris the Animal. But seriously…who gives a shit about 'Men in Black' anymore?”

Enough people, it turns out, to finally knock “The Avengers” off the top of the box office tally list after a four-week run (with a $46.9 million weekend, it’s up to $523.6 million and is already the fourth-biggest release of all time), reports Amy Kaufman in the Los Angeles Times. And a lot of them are not only overseas, they’re also in a seemingly insatiable market that would have seemed impenetrable not so very long ago. 

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The studios are pulling out all stops to make inroads in China, which in the first quarter of 2012 passed Japan to become the largest overseas market for American movies, the Los Angeles Times reports in another story this morning that carries no byline. 

Smith, the most prominent of the three stars of “Men In Black 3” appeared “live on Skype” in a Beijing movie theater last week, greeting moviegoers in Mandarin before expressing regrets that the New York premiere of the flick prevented his physical presence. The promotion already had 1.8 million views when the story was written.

“Titanic” director James Cameron, on the other hand, did actually travel to China for the 3D debut of his movie there last month, driving the largest opening ever in that country. “Men in Black” raked in nearly $20 million, finishing in the all-time No. 7 spots after opening on 6,073 screens.

But, the Times points out, “MIB3” did not have the 14 years of word-of-mouth marketing that “The Titanic” did. In fact, the first movie in the series did not make it past censors in 1997 and the studio didn’t even try with No. 2 in 2002. But its standards have … changed.

"Now, every opening weekend in China, there will be box-office winners and losers, whereas just a few years ago you never had to think about marketing," says Senn Moses, head of Asia operations for the Hollywood marketing company Cimarron.

One wonders, too, about the flagging importance of the seemingly endless trivia dished up by a seemingly endless parade of pundits -- particularly the old-schoolcap “C” critics.

“There’s a moment early on in ‘Men in Black 3’ when Will Smith’s Agent J sits down next to his longtime partner, Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K, and bemoans the fact that he’s too old for this sort of thing -- for running around New York in matching dark suits, chasing down aliens and zapping them with their shiny metal weapony doo-hickeys,” reads the lede on the AP movie critic Christy Lemire’s  review which ran in the Manteca Bulletin, among a trove of other places. 

“We’re paraphrasing a bit. But unfortunately, that’s an excellent observation,” she continues. "We’re all too old for this sort of thing -- the shtick itself has gotten old, and it has not aged well." 

That craggy line on the spreadsheet, however, is indeed pushing the film towards the black.

After recounting some of the problems encountered by the flick on the path to post production, Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich writes: “All the bad press prepared you for a travesty: a mess like ‘John Carter,’ or an overlong wreck like ‘Waterworld,’ or an exercise in tonal incoherence like ‘Jonah Hex.’ But for the most part, ‘Men in Black 3’ does not show any signs of being a runaway production….This is a well-oiled studio concoction; whatever went wrong with the production has been sandpapered down by a million visual effects engineers.”

Then Franich lambastes it in great detail for combining “everything illogical about time travel into one insane sequence,” as if there was anything logical about the movie –- aside from it’s potential to provide a handsome payday for a lot of people -- in the first place.

There are plenty of other details that will annoy one constituency or another, to be sure. The New Yorker’s David Denby doesn’t cotton to the depiction of Andy Warhol’s Factory in one scene, for example.

“Barging around New York,” he writes, Smith winds up at a party there “where absolutely everyone is an alien -- not a very good joke, since it’s what squares have always thought.

Well, the un-square have never though very much about movies like this in the first place. But that’s beside the point. You’ve got to love Tinseltown despite its predictable pabulum. It not only provides a few hours of mindless respite from the real world, it also provides fodder for punditry following an otherwise sleepy holiday weekend in Marketingwood.

1 comment about "'MIB3' Heads For Black Ink With Chinese Aboard".
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  1. Khalid Low from Reindeer Company, May 30, 2012 at 11:19 a.m.

    I am going to digress completely although my thesis will still boil down to marketing.
    Long over due (read dull & illogical) franchises or sequels are done so purely for one and only reason: The studio "owes" the actors (who are backed by very powerful agents and agencies that are all connected to studios) one more paycheck based on what the actor has made for the studio in the past.

    That is why we get Basic Instinct II which nobody gives a fudge about, Austin Powers IV which is 10 years too late, MIB 3 which is again 10 years too late, Rush Hour 3 which was 5 years late etc etc.

    There will be many more to come. An aging former A-lister with a powerful agent pushes a studio to make "one" more sequel to a dead end franchise with a cleverly devised marketing concept that fans have been clamoring for it for years. The audience gets fooled and the agent and actor pocket 7 figure paychecks whether the movie bombs or not.

    As Michael Lewis says in his excellent book "Boomerang", it's all about connections with power brokers and a few select that will always remain standing when everything else crashes and burns.

    Like I said, I digress a little.

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